presence

Where is God’s presence?

Where is God’s presence, How are we to long for it, How much of it should we expect, and How much are we to be it for one another?

I have been thinking alot about these ideas through some ideas that have been recently popularised in John Waltons book, The Lost world of Genesis One1, which seeks to recover how ancient near middle eastern readers (or hearers) would have understood the story.

Walton explains how the garden of eden and more widely the creation of the cosmos follows patterns of other creation stories in the near East. The Genesis account describes the garden in ways the original hearers would have understood as at once and temple and a palace

In ancient near eastern cultures humans created material idols, and placed them in a garden which was their ‘kingly’ seating and the temple at which people encountered their presence. What followed after the idol building phase was what was called a ‘spiritation’ ceremony, literally an in-Spirit-ing where the priest of the given idol would finalise the ceremony by breathing onto the idol to give it life. Remind you of anything?

Whatever else we want to argue that the creation story is, be it factual, literal, symbolic, allegorical it is clear the ancient hearers would have heard this story as at once familiar to other stories but also turning what would be expected around in ways that opened their eyes to both who God is and who they were.

Walton says we are then God’s idols, or more specifically vice-regents. Now these are unfamiliar terms but they are new words to help us understand more fully that we are, as was in common evangelical parlance a couple of decades ago, God’s ambassadors.

Think about an ambassdaor for a moment..what comes to mind?

  • They represent the authority they come in the name of,
  • They carry themselves with the dignity of their title,
  • Where ever they are, is in effect, the presence of the authority (in our case the person of Jesus Christ) they carry.

You can see this in action movies; someone is running from the police in foreign nation and in the final moments they leap over the line into their own nation’s consulate and they are suddenly on ‘safe soil’. Diplomatically countries agree to consider the grounds of an embassy equivalent to the country it represents.

This is God’s intention, that we are His ambassadors, that we are the place that His rule and presence are found on earth. But is this the way we think about God’s presence most of the time?

I come from a Christian tradition that is considered third-wave charismatic (although many within it would never identify with that particular phrasing), it basically means, more charismatic than pentecostal, more evangelical than fundamentalist, more apostolic-prophetic than presbyterian or episcopal. As a movement we emphasise the power and presence of God, often in worship/prayer type gatherings. The general understanding is that in these places of encounter we immerse ourselves in the reality of the Spirit 2 in order to be carriers of the presence of God into the places we spend the rest of our days.

There is a great deal to be thankful for within this tradition, but it’s cons are that often by locating the presence of God somewhere, we can subconciously lose the sense that He is everywhere. By encountering God in Spirit we can underplay His presence in Flesh. By embracing His invisiblity we can underplay His hands and feet.

In the same way as God’s original desire in the garden was to have ambassadors, who not only came in the name of God, but actually manifest the very presence of God where they were, so too was this His desire in Israel. A people who would be for the nations a sign, a wonder, a representation. Then later the Church is called to be the same thing. There are many moments when both Israel and the Church seem to fall woefully short of that representation, so short that we think, God must have another plan. We are tempted to (especially those in my own tradition) think that God will come like the cloud of the Old Testament or the still small voice in the dead of the night, but God has resigned Himself, or more rightly, delighted Himself to be known through His body, the Church. Not to deny that there is a still small voice, or that His presence could manifest as a cloud, but those are not his grand salvation plan for the Earth, His People are.

Some dear friends of ours have found themselves in South Africa in the midst of some family health issues and we have been able to visit them in the last week or so. In some ways I think it has ministered to us both, and I’ve been thinking about this idea, traditionally (and sometimes in a tired-way) referred to as fellowship. We have mediated the very presence of Christ to one another, in our very ordinary flesh and blood presence, we have been the manifest grace of God to encourage and sustain one another, we have been the love of God by binding wounds and ministering peace.

I won’t be backing down from crying out with the Church one of it’s most ancient prayers; “Come, Holy Spirit”, but neither will I back down from sitting with friend who have been in-Spirited, and blessing the Lord for His presence manifest through theirs.


  1. If you don’t have time to read the whole book, this is a good interview following his more recent book which follow some similar ideas and a podcast which will cover the main ideas. 
  2. which catches us into the trinitarian fellowship itself, namely including us in the Son and thus restoring relationship to the Father. 
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Awaken Magazine republished Song of Sorrows / Songs of Hope Review

spoken

Spoken | Podcasting lite?

I’m a serial early-adopter, which basically means that if there is an interesting service online with a queue for trial testers, and enough buzz around the tech world, I’m probably on the beta list.

For the last 12 months, I’ve been thinking about podcasting. I was involved in a study program that brought some great thinkers and speakers to south Africa and there were always people that were not in the room that I thought would have loved to have been. Secondly I always find myself in scenarios where a speaker is being introduced and facilitated having an imagined alternative of how I might have introduced or facilitated them differently; different questions and nuances I might have picked up on.

So, in my mind hosting a podcast would be the perfect coming together of these two things. Both being able to guide the direction of discussion with interesting people and simultaneously sharing with those not in the room.

Here’s my only problem with podcasting…time.

I can rarely find enough time to listen to a 30-60min podcast, never mind the idea of recording and producing one.

And this is why I am excited about Spoken

Spoken promises to be the audio version of instagram, short edible moments of audio which are as easy to listen to as they are to record.

They have already got some great little recordings up there.

So instead of diving into the deep waters of podcasting I’m thinking of taking up spoken.co

Obviously, being a new release there are very few features so far. I’d love to see an embed option similar to something like soundcloud, and for there to be a good quality in-built recorder rather than only having the option to upload a file.

Keep an eye and sign up here

links15

Friday Link List | 12th June 2015

Every Friday I’m posting links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too,

Theology

  • God made us to love him and respond in a life of work with him, that being said, it is easy to swap these two around and to have activity become the ‘Lord’ or ‘director’ of our lives. This easily susceptible trait significantly deforms our spiritual lives, crushes or maligns our significant relationships and tells us a false story about what life is really about. That is why I enjoyed this post adapted from a book 1 called “seeing is believing” – The post was called The Spiritual Value of doing nothing
    Read More
robinson

What a strange old book it was. How oddly holiness situated itself among the things of the world, how endlessly creation wrenched and strained under the burden of its own significance. “I will open my mouth in a… Read More

Marilynne Robinson

repitition

Practise makes Spontaneous brilliance

I am not a person (by nature 1) who enjoys repetition. In fact, I thrive on changing circumstances. This has slowly shifted the older I get, but when I had a ‘sit-down-at-a-desk’ type job, I had to fill out the same reports first thing every morning. It was the worst part of my day.

Winter has just begun in South Africa, we are experiencing cold for the fist time in a house we moved into in the middle of summer. Every morning I am pushing myself through the cold air in the house and I do the same thing every morning. Run into the lounge and start a fire 2, and then turn on the kettle for some coffee.

Over 4 or so winters in South Africa, Do you know what I am pretty good at?

Making Fires and cups of coffee.
Read More

rublev

Trinity Sunday Prayer

Father,
You sent your Word to bring us truth
and your Spirit to make us holy.
Through them we come to know the mystery of your life.
Help us to worship you, one God in three persons,
You reveal yourself in the depths of our being,
by proclaiming and living our faith in you.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen

stott

Links for Friday | 29th May 2015

Every Friday I’m posting links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too,

So, its been a quiet week on this blog, partly due to this

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We’ve been travelling back from India, and on our first flight I was carted off by paramedics with some pretty dramatic food poisoning! All is well now though, and after a night at home we are back on the road, hence the slow down with blogging.

Theology

Becoming a frequently linked location Think Theology had a brilliant and short article about when is a “christian” not a “christian”. Spoiler alert; Luther is in the cross hairs here.

Skye Jethani who is the writer of the “with” book I’ve been writing s hort series on here and here, had an excellent piece on what the recent vote on gay marriage in Ireland could teach America, and more broadly those who wish for more christian influence in the public spheres.

While I don’t really agree with every turn this post takes, Reknew has a post on the challenge of the (false) dichotomy in missions of gospel proclamation and justice works. It is a real tension that exists in missional practise, and mostly because of the dichotomy exist in a prediminantly western context. Jethani cites John Stott in finding the third where one doesn’t need to become the casualty of the other.

I love books and I love lists, you know you thing I love more, lists of books! Here is a list of ways to get involved in reading reformed systematics, in my imaginary world with more capacity, I’d love to work through something like this.

Technology

Amazon released a new font for Kindle app which helps reading and was a welcome change as I have been using kindle much more than usual on my last couple of trips.


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hands

Practising the Presence at the Table | Isaac Aho

Over the past two years Isaac has been one of my favourite people to eat, drink, think and pray alongside. His family have intentionally developed their meal table as a space to recognise the worth of Jesus, one another and the many guests they have. I asked him to write a little on what he is learning about spiritual formation and the deep connection to meal times. – Liam

isaac

I was recently listening to an audio recording of John Ortburg and Dallas Willard at a “Knowing Christ Today” conference in Santa Barbara, California. This recording is, in my opinion, one of the best teachings on discipleship I have ever heard in one compilation. Willard is a man who has given his life to the study and application of spiritual formation. Toward the end of the conference, Ortburg asks Willard a question. I can hear a certain desperation in his voice as he is a pastor and author who has also devoted his life to the idea that real discipleship can and should be happening in the church. We should look different as kingdom people.

Ortburg asks Dallas, and I paraphrase slightly, “How do we do this in a way that actually works? There are people in this room from common areas. We have all have had the experience where in a city there may be an interfaith council or gathering of pastors for prayer. This is a good idea but doesn’t have the kind of life to it that we need. It can become one more obligation to schedules that are full, rather than a life-bringing thing.” The answer Dallas gives is:

“We arrange our time together where we are actually sharing what is going on in our souls and we don’t just spend our time talking about community affairs, ecumenical efforts or comparisons between churches. You have to arrange your time where people are exchanging ‘soul work’, what is going on in them, and they are sharing their experience of the presence of Christ in their lives”

I have recently been working on a thesis project where I am exploring a deeper understanding of the Eucharist and how Jesus used meal-time as a place of discipleship. I have been learning how the “communion meal” was an actual full meal called an “agape” or “love feast” with the Eucharist bread being broken and shared before the meal, and the cup of wine passed around and shared at the end of the meal. I have a friend who often says, “When your newest tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” So with that as a disclaimer, I will go on to say: If I had been at the conference, I don’t know how I would have kept myself from speaking up. In the full seven-hour conference on Christian formation, the communion meal, or Eucharist, was not mentioned once as a means of spiritual formation. A teaching on discipleship by some of our best teachers that doesn’t mention the table as a place of discipleship should indicate just how much we have lost the practice and importance of this sacrament.

Jesus left us with a certain kind of a meal as the center of our times when we come together. This meal was to be marked by the participants awareness that He was present at the table. It was an actual meal at an actual table that would culminate in an act everybody would participate in. Bread broken and eaten, a glass of wine shared. It was not what was said that was important but what was done.

In the early church, any person could sit through a church teaching, but when it came time to break bread, all non-believers would be asked to leave. It was not listening to Christ’s teaching that marked you as a Christian, it was participating in a communion meal which set you apart as a believer and earned you the death penalty if caught. Many were martyred in the persecuted church for confessing to eating the Eucharist meal. To participate under the threat of death shows just how serious they took this.

Jesus often chose the table as a place of discipleship. A full five chapters of teaching (John 13-17) was most likely done at the last supper where he gave us the Eucharist act. I like to think his prayer, “…they would be one as we are one…” (John 17), was offered with the bread and wine. He would often stop in the middle of a meal for a surprising illustrated lesson such as his impromptu foot washing in Johns last supper account, maybe in response to an argument they just had about who would be greatest. (Luke 22)

For at least the first 100 years, the church would practice Eucharist during an actual meal called a “love feast” or “agape meal”. Slowly, toward the end of the first century, the love feast and Eucharist, the taking of bread and wine, became separate acts, although both continued to be practiced. This could have been a result of persecution, as the Eucharist act was easier to perform without notice in comparison to a full meal. Slowly, over the last two centuries, the church has largely lost the practice of “agape” meals. I believe the modern church, in losing the “Agape”, has also lost the full understanding of the Eucharist and the importance of an awareness Holy Spirit and the person with us, Is there any wonder so many are sick and dying among us? Paul’s question to the church of Corinth really hits home today

When I sit at any table with an awareness of Christ as the host, I will naturally become more aware of others. The “soul conversations” that Dallas speaks of are a natural outflow of this kind of gathering. Like any spiritual discipline, the Eucharist act is not an end in itself but will bring about actual transformation in my awareness of my own self, others and Christ being present.

What could happen if I take the teaching of Jesus seriously and began to practice the kind of meal he desired: Christ present, the lame, sick and poor present (at least sometimes), diverse, hospitable, generous, joyful, an unhurried time of sharing food and my life with others? The next meal you sit at, consciously make Jesus the host. Wait until everybody is seated before starting to eat. Have a meaningful conversation with everybody present. Ask open ended questions and really listen to the others. Slowing our eating and tasting each bite with thankfulness can change any mealtime.

The simplicity of these acts lull us into thinking they are unnecessary, but I am challenging myself to participate more often at this kind of table.


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vanier

Links for Friday | 21st May 2015

Every Friday I’m posting links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too,

Theology

  • In recent months, I’ve been pushed back to realy re-examine how we use the word ‘Gospel’ and what it means to share the gospel. Here Scot McKnight alludes to a couple of ways in which we might be sharing a narrower gospel than the biblical text proclaims;

  • An old prof of mine who I am forever indebted to for discovering the beautiful intersections of theology, mental health care and chaplaincy, John Swinton writes about his nominating of Jean vanier founder of L’arche communities

  • Krish kandiahresponds convincingly to theologian Wayne grudem’s defense of Christian gun ownership. Although, I’m increasingly convinced as I have these conversations that there is a cultural impasse between our cultures (US and UK) despite our common(ish) language.

  • Over the last couple of years the importance of understanding God as triune has sky-rocketted. This strange (and, by name not explicitly referenced) doctrine is often relegated to the complicated and mysterious (and therefore expendible) in most daily Christian practice. I thought Greg Boyd wrote an excellently clear piece explaining why this matters. Most significantly is that for God to be love, there needs to be more than a single person at play!

Miscellany

I am long disonnected from the regular rhythm of US colleges, but seemingly people are graduating right about now, I thought these 3 tips by Jeff Goins were great!

1)Don’t worry about what to do. Worry about who you are and who you are becoming. Focus on continued growth and learning, and what you’re meant to do will become clear over time.
2) Stop looking for the perfect job and start creating it. The best way to do what you love is to build the perfect job for yourself. Start a small business, if even as a hobby, so you’re never completely on someone else to earn a living.
3) Instead of chasing your dream, serve someone else’s first. This will save you years of pain and accelerate your growth in ways you can’t imagine. And it will humble you.

How do defend against thinking just like the age an culture which surrounds you? Read this quote from CS Lewis biography by Alister McGrath this week (HT: Tides and Turning) which made me want to dig into some old tomes;

Lewis argues that a familiarity with the literature of the past provides readers with a standpoint which gives them critical distance from their own era. Thus, it allows them to see ‘the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.’ The reading of old books enables us to avoid becoming passive captives of the Spirit of the Age by keeping ‘the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds’ (Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis – A Life, p. 187).

Productivity

  • I’ve been looking at a couple of desk ideas recently, and have been playing with the idea of a ‘standing desk’ which has become popular over the last decade or so. I’m just not so sure I’d want to stand all the time.

  • This could be a pretty neat and elegant solution! HT: Tools and Toys

  • Tools and Toys also published a great review of apple’s new macbook. From this review it seems like a great buy for 90% of non-power mac users.

  • I use a calendar app pretty regularly, not because Im esepcially timetabled, but for some sense of knowing where my time is going and has gone. I even put events in my calendar after they have passed so I can remember what I did. I’ve been using Fantastical for both mac and iOs and really enjoyed its funcationality. Especially its natural language parsing1

  • Finally, and again, from Tools and Toys (Yes, I do read other blogs), some great suggestions for music to work alongside.

I agree that mostly instrumental works best for me, I get to share a spotify account and enjoy these tunes recently as I work;



  1. “Instead of laboring your way through several fields to add an entry, you can type something like “Ritchie conference call at 3pm on Tuesday,” and it’ll fill in all the fields, including a default duration of one hour and a recognition that by “Tuesday” you must mean “next Tuesday.” – Lean Crew


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